Life Unwound: Complaining can't create contentment

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 3

It’s easy to complain.

I lounge on the deck of a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Warm; not stormy; no ice; no snow; no need for parkas, mittens, hats, or to crawl on my knees to wash the slush from my floors. I don’t have to do anything except what I want for 11 days; no duties other than to retreat into rest.

Friends e-mail me, asking, “How’s your trip?”

I write that the crowd of 3,000 people on this ship push, rush, elbow. I say I don’ t like the heaviness, the oiliness of the meals. I tell them I don’t gripe alone, though, that a chorus of loud passengers whines that the off-ship tours don’t start on time and end a few hours late.

I say I love the lectures on board, but I hate that people throw shawls or notebooks on chairs to save seats half an hour before the talks start. Then they bolt. No one stays, only their junk stays, so I can’t claim my favorite place. I answer that I hear others dismay-basking as they shove through long buffet lines, that some people yell as they wait for the runny oatmeal to arrive.

It is, for sure, easy to complain. Did I mention the Caribbean where I voyaged to relax? That the warm crystalline waters radiate turquoise? That the kind staff waits on me?

Yesterday, after I sent my diatribe to friends, I received this from one of them: “Your trip sounds wonderful.”

What? Had I not said that 3,000 people moan about delayed breakfast, the heat and humidity, firm in the stance that this vacation stands out as the worst ever?

Oh, maybe I had also mentioned how safe I felt with the “ya, mon, no problem” guide who led us laughing along Jamaican powder-white sandy beaches and grotto caves. Maybe I had noted how my eyes open now to diverse cultures, how my ears hear lush Spanish sounds, and how I savor new foods. Maybe I had written, “Tropical Paradise.” And maybe my friend caught the wonder in my journey, even through my grumbling.

Life is a matter of focus, isn’t it? A matter of where we place our attention. Earlier, with thousands of others, like herded cattle or rounded up buffalo, I walked off the boat into a touristy town, designed solely to capture cruise-ship shoppers. The cynic in me braced as I glimpsed storekeepers who finger-hooked us in. I thought, “Here we go. Prepare for the ambush.”

I noticed a Starbucks sign. Here, really?

But I strolled by myself, no one with whom to “tsk, tsk.” So I kept roaming, right into a chocolate-making shop called Kakaw. “Like cacao,” I thought, “clever.”

I bought a bar, 85 percent dark, and ate a bite (OK, three bites). Sweet. I then turned to something other than this-is-wrong-this-is-wrong-this-is-wrong. I stepped to the edge of the see-through sea, listened to the crashing, clashing waves, watched dolphins play, and smiled at fellow travelers, who softened their stressed faces and smiled back.

The Caribbean sparkled with glints of sunlight, as if talking to me, to us, as if ringing a wake-up call: “Hey. Every moment can seduce us to clamp down and contract in fault-finding. Remember, it also invites us to open wide to dazzling beauty.”

Whether we enjoy ourselves or suffer depends on if we can spot the splendor in the whole. Yes, here, really, our experience depends on where we look and what we choose to see.

Falmouth author Susan Lebel Young is a retired psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher. She can be reached at sly313@aol.com or at www.susanlebelyoung.com.

3